Friday, June 15, 2018
It has been a week full of wins for President Donald Trump -- at least for those who share Trump's view of the way the world works, and perhaps even for some who don't.
Exhibit A is Trump's summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore. In their self-congratulatory joint statement, they said that North Korea committed to "work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and the United States agreed to "provide security guarantees" to North Korea.
Critics said that that's not airtight language and argued that Kim came out better than the author of "The Art of the Deal." He got Trump to call for the cancelation of U.S.-South Korea military exercises in August in return for promises that his regime has repeatedly broken.
Trump was having none of this. In place of the "fire and fury" he threatened not so long ago, he rhapsodized about new condominium developments. And unlike previous U.S. negotiators, his diplomacy was very personal: The president who began his Manhattan real estate career at 25 noted that Kim took power at 27.
Similarly personal was the appeal in the four-minute video created by the National Security Council. Of 7 billion people on Earth, only a few can make a difference, the narrator said, adding that history need not be repeated but can evolve. That's hokey, critics said, but "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams, who famously predicted Trump's election based on his persuasive powers, said his "first reaction" to the video was that "it might be the best thing that anybody ever did in a negotiation. Period."
The personal touch, by the way, distinguishes Trump's outreach to North Korea from former President Barack Obama's to Iran. The Iranian regime is a group project with many leaders who have ideological and economic interests in continuing hostility toward the United States. Obama's hope that he could change its outlook clearly went unrealized.
Kim's regime, in contrast, appears highly personal, one in which the leader can order the sudden deposition and death of an uncle who is a key official. That regime's behavior, Trump is betting, will change if he can change the mind of one man.
Of course this may not work out. The argument is that nothing else has, and with North Korean nukes now poised to hit the West Coast, it's worth trying. "The world is safer than it was a week ago," writes veteran Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius, "and Trump is getting some deserved global applause."
"In expected value terms, this is the biggest triumph of the Trump presidency," blogs contrarian economist Tyler Cowen. "The negative commentary I am seeing is mostly sour grapes, misplaced frustration, and it is weak in the quality of its argumentation."
Trump's almost-affectionate treatment of Kim is something like the relationship -- making friends with supposed enemies -- that he's cultivated with rapper Kanye West. In this case, the obvious goal is that he and his party will improve on the 8 percent he won from blacks in 2016.
And make no mistake; it's his party -- something that seemed highly unlikely when he rode down that escalator three years ago this month. Trump has near-unanimous job approval among self-described Republicans, and his clout in Republican primaries was demonstrated in one of his smaller victories this week.
Just three hours before polls closed in South Carolina on Tuesday, Trump tweeted his endorsement of Katie Arrington against 1st District incumbent and frequent Trump critic Rep. Mark Sanford. The challenger got 50.6 percent and avoided a runoff by just 366 votes. Did the tweet make the difference?
Another apparent Trump victory came without much notice, as House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy blocked the efforts of some moderate Republicans and all House Democrats to get the 218 signatures required to trigger a roll call on a bill that would legalize the so-called "Dreamers," young immigrants in the country illegally who were brought here as children, without strengthening immigration law enforcement.
That was not the deal Trump had in mind when he promised to sign a bill legalizing recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and strengthening enforcement. Ryan and McCarthy promised roll-call votes next week on such a bill sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and another as yet to be drafted by Republican moderates.
These developments may not turn out to be Trump wins. The immigration bills probably won't pass and will fall short of Trump goals; Trump endorsement tweets may produce unelectable nominees; negotiations with North Korea may go nowhere. But maybe, as Trump has predicted, we're going to get tired of so much winning.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
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